This was a different and special interview. Like a few of my other interviewees, I came to meet Cookie Edwards from The KZN Network on Violence Against Women through a friend. It was because of that fact, coupled with our conversations in the weeks leading up to our interview, that I decided to offer to meet her out for a coffee, or to cook her dinner at my home while we speak. She accepted my dinner invitation – and so this became the first interview I conducted on my own balcony!
Even though we’d never met before Cookie joined me in the kitchen while I prepped for our meal. We did that thing that new acquaintances do, chatting a bit about everyday life and not dwelling for too long on the serious topics. It was during this time that I came to realise that she actually took the time to come and see me on the eve of her 60th birthday! I felt so honoured that she was willing to give up her evening to spend it with me, a relative stranger, in this way.
She was clearly also not short on ways to spend her time. Cookie is an incredibly busy woman – in fact she arrived a bit early because she was scared that she may forget our appointment if she went home first. As soon as we finished dinner and the official interview started I was captivated. I mean, don’t misunderstand me, our initial conversation wasn’t boring at all. But once she was able to start sharing more about this work she is so passionate about I saw what an open and hardworking person Cookie actually is.
She was willing to share her entire journey with us. This brave woman didn’t mind going back and speaking about some intensely painful subject matter to give us a better idea of why she has taken on the role of Director of the KZN Network on Violence Against women. As she speaks the reason for her passion becomes increasingly clearer.
And she honestly is incredibly passionate about this cause. Over the years herself and some of her friends had mobilised thousands of women to fight gender-based violence. In 2018 they organised the Total Shutdown march in Durban where approximately 7 000 women marched to Currie’s Fountain to hand over a memorandum arguing for the emancipation of women to the relevant MEC.
Then, in 2019, they also took part in August march where a reported 3 000 people marched in the wake of the atrocious crimes committed against women in South Africa throughout Women’s Month that year.
Their aim is to ensure that legislation is changed so that a safer environment can be created for women in the country. So, even though these marches attracted a lot of attention to Cookie’s cause, her work certainly doesn’t end there…herself and her colleagues are constantly doing whatever they can to achieve this goal. They are constantly creating awareness about it, and meeting with key figures to pursue this much-needed change.
As Cookie shares her story with me it’s obvious that this has been an intensely personal struggle. She does not shy away from explaining how her own exposure to abuse started from a very young age, and how it affected her into adulthood. Honestly this woman held my attention completely captive. I couldn’t believe that this person who was sitting in front of me had faced so many obstacles in her lifetime!
But what is so remarkable about Cookie’s particular journey? Well, the odds were truly stacked against her. She managed to overcome her unstable home life where she was exposed to an abusive father and an absent mother at times. Her home life also impacted on her education, because sometimes the only way she managed to feel better was by running away from home.
Then when she was finally able to escape these difficult circumstances she ended up married to an oppressive and abusive husband. I could hardly believe it when she told me that she used to have a speech impediment because her former husband broke her jaw once in a fit of rage!
To say I was inspired seems like a bit of a weak statement. But that was how I felt. Her strength and her determined spirit carried her through all of these terrible situations. Yes, Cookie is a mother, so she had children that she needed to protect as best she could, but once she was out of the situation it became obvious that this was not an experience she would move on from, but that she would use it to help other women too.
When she was finally free of her husband she had to go to work for hours on end to provide for her family. But somehow, in amongst caring for her young family and going to work, she found herself listening to other women in need. It was obvious that there were many women out there who were living in terrible circumstances and who needed to share their stories of abuse with someone else.
So that’s how it all started for Cookie. Her NPO was born out of the need around her. It seemed to happen naturally as she became a safe space for other women. The next step was that she ended up advocating for them, helping them go to court to fight for their rights whenever possible. Currently she does two jobs. She works for Dramaid – an organisation that educates people about HIV and AIDS through drama as well as giving them access to testing and counselling when needed.
But Cookie also heads up the KZN Network on Violence Against Women. And you can clearly see just how much she wants to help others through the work they do. This isn’t easy, because at the moment they are in great need of funding. Cookie’s goal is to open up the channels of communication between the many people who are working in this sphere. Her dream is to create a proper network again. She feels that this is vital to fighting the issue of gender-based violence in South Africa because if people work together, they can do much more than they could in isolation.
It might seem like a lot – asking for funding to build a whole network. But Cookie explained that she’s not into huge funding. She simply wants enough to be able to set up regular meetings, to book meeting places and offer those attending some refreshments. Every little bit of funding can help this cause, it absolutely doesn’t have to involve huge corporate sums (although that would obviously be welcome too – this is me talking, not Cookie)!
To get in touch with Cookie Edwards you can contact her on her cellphone: 082 260 3394 or alternatively try her office number 031 260 3394.
I must warn you though that her phone is incredibly busy so she may take a couple of hours to respond – but she will get back to you!
Also I must now issue a second warning for those of you who read the blog before moving on to listen to the podcast…this is an unusually long episode, but I truly think it’s worth listening to. You will get a clear picture of this woman’s journey and why exactly she does what she does.
I myself feel like I learned so much from her. I learned more about gender-based violence and how it sometimes plays out in South Africa, but more than that I also learned about someone who is passionate, tenacious and who fights for what she believes in. All qualities the world could use more of. So this episode truly is well worth a listen (even if you have to do it over the span of a few days).
Listen on our Episodes page or click here for Spotify.